Ollantaytambo, Peru


     While visiting the Cusco, Peru area; a trekking buddy (Kathy Stoker) and I decided to explore Ollantaytambo, Peru.  Ollantaytambo is one of the top three archaeological sites visited in Peru, with Machu Picchu and Sachsayhuaman being the other two. 

Area map of Southern Peru

     The name Ollantay comes from the Aymara which means “place to see down”, that is to say watchtower.  Tambo is Quechua meaning inn or storehouse. 

Urubamba Valley near Urubamba Village, Peru 

     Pictured above, Urubamba Valley, is a valley in the Andes of Peru, 20 km at its closest north of the Inca capital of Cusco.  In colonial documents it was referred to as the “Valley of Yucay.” The “Sacred Valley” was incorporated slowly into the incipient Inca Empire during the period from 1000 to 1400 AD.   Urubamba Valley or the “Sacred Valley”, stretches from Pisac to Ollantaytambo and is a very fertile valley that is irrigated by the Urubamba River.  We drove up the valley to Ollantaytambo.

The flat pyramid of Ollantaytambo

      Looking towards Ollantaytambo village, you can see the enigmatic optical illusion of a pyramid in the fields and walls in front of the archeological fortress. A few scholars believe this marks the legendary place where the original Incas first emerged from the earth.  On the winter solstice of each year, June 21, the rays of the rising sun enter and strike the right one of the two window of the pyramid.  This concides, more or less, with the celebration of the Inti Raymi, which is the Inca celebration of the rebirth of the sun, and of the history of the whole Inca civilization.  Kathy and I participated in the Inti Raymi celebration on the day before this picture was taken.

A couple of local natives from Ollantaytambe village, Peru. 

      Ollantaytambo village lies on top of Inca foundations. The cobblestone streets, lined by adobe walls, are kept in pristine shape. Canals continue to bring water to the town from the mountains. The village itself is divided into blocks, or canchas. Each cancha was home to several families, and these homes had access to a main courtyard. Some families continue to live in their ancestor’s home and have small shops in their courtyard. Ollantaytambo is a very traditional village, but the locals, [pictured above], clothed in their brightly colored native dress, had no problem with me taking a picture of them.

The ruins of Ollantaytambo, Peru

     The ruins at Ollantaytambo are mostly of religious significance, although they were also important strategically.  Ancient symbol-like marks in relief still adorn these huge stones. The complex also includes a stepped terrace as well as an area known as the Princess Baths, where ceremonial bathing took place.  From the point of the picture above, Kathy and I climbed up a stairway through the ruins.  Rising up the stairs, it became clear that the walls, on the left were far more refined in construction than the Andenes to the right.  Pictured below, they were of polygonal blocks that fit very tightly, while the Andenes were made of field stones with clay mortar in function, and thus were not as carefully and patiently shaped as the work on the left.  However, the higher we got the more interesting it got.

The polygonal wall below the Temple of the Sun at Ollantaytambo

     The staircase winds off to the left and up, and once we reached flat ground a number of niches present themselves.  Built in the 1400s, the large Inca fortress (also known as Temple Hill) and the Temple of the Sun with its monolithic stones (weighing 40 tons).  Ancient symbol-like marks in relief still adorn these huge stones.  

Trapazoid doorway at the end of the polygonal wall at the Ollantaytambo ruins in Peru. 

     Pictured below, a towering wall, known as the “Wall of the Six Monoliths”, stands directly in front of the terraces at the Temple Hill. For unknown reasons, this construction was never completed. It is notable because of the distance the Inca had to move the huge stones. They used their special techniques to move the stones from a quarry high on the mountainside on the opposite side of the Rio Urubamba, across the river and up to the place where it now sits, a distance of 6 km.  These stones are huge red porphyry (pink granite) boulders. 

Wall of the Six Monoliths at the Ollantaytambo ruins in Peru

    Pictured below, this complex was also used for agricultural purposes. Stepped agricultural terraces or andene are found throughout the area. The terrace walls were also huge and made for another realization how incredible the Incas were with their construction. Most of the crops here were probably corn, potatoes and quinoa. Many of the terraces throughout the Sacred Valley were built on mountain sides and hills and irrigated by water coming from the mountains. The steps and terraces ensured the crops were getting more sunlight. They were also built to control irrigation and overflow into the towns below and to increase the space for planting.

Agricultural Terraces of the Ollantaytambo ruins in Peru

        It was also worth admiring the structures across the way from “The Temple of the Sun” and the terraces. Kathy and I saw fieldstone storehouses or ‘Qollqa’ or colca on Pinkuylluna mountain to preserve their crops and store surpluses. It was amazing to think how the Incas accomplished building these structures on such a steep hill, (pictured below on the right).  The Incas probably built these storehouses out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, preserved their contents against decay. 

     Pictured below on the left, is a out carved rock formation protruding to the left of the storehouses. This was supposed to be the face of Viracocha who created the Inca mythology.

Storehouses on the right and the “Face of Viracocha on the left” at the Ollantaytambo ruins.

     Viracocha is the great creator god in the pre-Inca and Inca mythology in the Andes region of south America.  Viracocha was one of the most important deities in the Inca pantheon and seen as the creator of all things, or the substance from which all thins are created, and intimately associated with the sea.  Viracocha created the  universe, sun, moon and stars, time and civilization itself. 

     During the summer solstice, the sunlight passes directly over eye of the carved face. Note that there is a “crown” on top of his head, which is in fact a small sanctuary building of Inca construction. 

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